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Invader
(1992)
 

Director: Philip J. Cook             
Cast:
Hans Bachmann, A. Thomas Smith, Rick Foucheux


Invader is a triumph in low budget filmmaking - make that ultra low budget filmmaking. It's obvious throughout this movie that the budget must have been quite small, though the fact that producer Menahem Golan helped to put up the cash for the movie shouldn't make this a surprise. In almost every scene, there is some kind of aspect showing the movie's cheapness; for instance, there's a dark look to the cinematography, scenes taking place in certain locations are obvious shot elsewhere because of the tight close-ups, and then there are special effects that could have come right out of an 8 mm home movie.

But unlike other low budget movies, "Help! I'm stuck with an annoying white sidekick!"Invader does seem to have a good idea of its limitations. It does not try to make believe its shabbier moments are really greater than they really are, and actually builds its own little universe where you actually accept the inferior technical quality. Most importantly, the movie, knowing it can't improve on the technical side, concentrates instead on giving us a science fiction movie with a swift pace, ample action, sympathetic characters, and good acting.

Actually, maybe I was a little too hard with the movie's special effects. Yes, some are pretty bad. When we see jet fighters flying in the sky during the night, the city lights below look like they are simply light bulbs sticking out of a black floor. When a jet fighter explodes, it explodes into a cloud of sparks that seems to have been made from fireworks. And those jet fighters are, of course, obvious models. But sometimes they are not so obvious. A few scenes where aircraft land or take off and we see the model work of the airport landing area in the background, it is very impressive to see not only the amount of aircraft, buildings, fences, etc. in the scene, but their construction and photography make the effect several notches above the model work in even the more expensive Godzilla movies.

Some scenes, like when a stealth fighter moved slowly out of its hanger, I was absolutely amazed - I knew it was model work, but I knew some people could be fooled to thinking what they Godzilla would be proud to stomp on these models were seeing was full-sized and really taking place on location, instead of on a soundstage. It's obvious some real hard work went into making these special effects. Even when the budget made some effect not so special, a lot of them still keep our interest. Just witness the stop motion animation (of what, I will not tell) used in the climatic sequence. Sure, the animation is kind of jerky, and the moving object is very obviously not full-scale, but it's presented in a deliberately goofy style that makes it fun to watch. And that is what the real key that makes Invader work - a sense of fun.

After an opening teaser sequence involving rogue soldiers with flashlight bulb eyes (you read that right), we are introduced to Frank McCall (Bachmann), a reporter for The National Scandal, a rag with articles and typesetting that would even embarrass The Weekly World News. After covering a story on a two-headed dog, he gets a call from his boss to head to Virginia, to report on several dead soldiers from a nearby Air Force base found in the woods. Most of the soldiers were shot, though one was mysteriously fried into a crispy critter. While taking pictures and trying to find out what's wrong, he bumps into Captain Harry Anders (Smith) from the Department of Defense. He's mostly incommunicado, save for a few insults at Frank's expense, though it's clear he himself is trying to find out what's going on.

Frank soon discovers there will be a test flight that night of a jet fighter with a new computerized control system code named ASMODS. He manages to sneak onto the base and get some pictures, iThey are not men. They are Devo!ncluding when the plane suddenly crashes, though his general ineptness (including blatantly taking those pictures in front of military brass) get him seized by Harry. While Harry is gone for a moment, the soldiers guarding Frank forcibly move him, and attempt to drug him and hook him up to a strange-looking helmet. Harry comes to the rescue, guns a-blazing, just in time. Almost immediately afterwards, the activity on the base goes to hell, and Frank and Harry find themselves on the run from the other soldiers on the base, who are determined to kill them. It's up to them to pair up to not only save themselves in a daring escape, but to find out what's going on and try to stop it.

Captain Anders is played by a black actor, and yes, this is yet another example of the movie rule about team-ups such as this: Whenever there is a buddy team consisting of a black actor and a white actor, the better acting comes from the black actor. (One exception: Men In Black.) As the slightly wimpy reporter, Bachmann actually is decent; he gives his character a lot of enthusiasm and just the right touch of naivety to make his occasional foolish remarks or decisions believable. Also, he delivers some one-liners well, as when he tells the Captain, "You're Superman - I wanna see you kick some ass!" His character is unfortunately too much of a chatterbox, so it's understandable why the Captain keeps exclaiming "Shut up!" to Frank, calling him "Peckerbreath" in-between utterances of that exclamation.

Some viewers will probably exclaim these and other insults towards Frank on occasion when he becomes really annoying. "Hey! I see a U.F.O. and I don't live on a farm!" They will probably be pleased with Smith's performance as the Captain, as I was. He plays his role seriously, appropriate for someone belonging to the D.O.D., and he plays his role as a professional, though one who knows when it's appropriate to break the rules. The amusing lines of dialogue his character occasionally says are delivered in a nice, understated way, which makes them amusing without suddenly changing his character. Put together, both actors generate chemistry, and it's fun seeing them working together and arguing with each other. Special mention must also go to the great performance of John Cooke as General Anheiser, an older fellow introduced late in the movie that is a stuffed shirt at first, but then soon gets a bloodthirsty gleam in his eye when he gets into the action.

Philip J. Cook not only wrote and directed, but is listed several times in the closing credits in the special effects departments. You've got to give him at least an "A" for effort, especially considering the little money he probably had. For one thing, there's only one actual flying helicopter seen in the movie - the rest are models, and are seen flying at night, no doubt to make the models look better. In fact, most of the action in the movie takes place outside at night, or in dark rooms, to make the other effects look better as well. The fog machine is put into overdrive and big bright spotlights are placed in the background in attempts to hide wherever the movie was really filmed, instead of where it is actually taking place. I didn't mind this so much, since I was caught up with the swiftly moving story and action. There are car chases, shoot-outs, hand-to-hand fights, dogfights in the air, and that big action sequence at the climax, which I still won't reveal. Each of these scenes is directed well enough to manage to create tension, and wonder if our heroes will get through the challenge they currently face. Okay, these scenes aren't perfect. Maybe a rocket launcher would make more damage to a bus than destroying its radiator. Maybe the integration of actors into the matte paintings has the live footage placed on top jiggling a little. But Invader is one of those movies where the gaffs just add to the fun, because you sense the makers of the movie were really trying, and they were having fun themselves. It's a fun movie.
 


UPDATE: I received this letter from John Ellis:

"Heartily enjoyed your review of my film INVADER (I produced it, and co-created the effects and pretty much everything else)...I want to point out that Menachem Golan had nothing to do with the creation of the film with the exception of putting up some finishing funds.

"Also, there are no (read: NONE) actual real flying helicopters in John Ellis working on the helicopter model during the INVADER shoot the film...they were all models...what you thought was the real thing was a radio controlled 5' long scale Huey built for us (and flown) by RC enthusiast Royce Brademan. I should note that the shell of the helo model was the only leftover (unfinished) fiberglass pull from the movie DIE HARD. We did film in a real Huey...sitting on the ground in an outdoor air Museum in Hampton Roads Virginia.

"The film was shot entirely in 16 and 35mm.

"Glad you liked the film. Makes me feel good!"
 


UPDATE 2: Director Philip J. Cook wrote in:

"Surprisingly, I just recently came across your review concerning our '92 film of Invader. I just thought I'd write and say it was very fair and well considered  review.  It's been quite a few years since I've had the nerve to try this low-no-budget film thing again.  I've recently completely production on Despiser which just hit home video in April.  To learn more, check out: http://eaglefilms.com/despiser/DespiserWebsite.htm"

Mr. Cook also directed me to this page dedicated to Invader:
http://eaglefilms.com/despiser/Invader2.htm


UPDATE 3: From another member of the crew:

"Just like to say that although this film was indeed a low budget production, the special effects team and related "behind-the-scene" crew, have placed 110% of their blood, sweat, & tears to make this movie pop and sizzle. It is still one of my favorite B features!"

Norman R. Gagnon
(Physical Special Effects)
Facade FX

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See also: Lifeform, Revenge Of The Teenage Vixens..., The Silencers

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